I have to do a “two-for” every now and then. These are definitely worthy.
The evolution of this story, like so many others, started with my mother. I remember her always referring to the first movie in the series as the “scariest movie” she’d ever seen. She mentioned it in passing when I was about 5 and I never forgot it. I was not allowed to watch it at that time given my age.
Approximately 6 years later, the sequel was the Sunday Night movie on ABC (I think–one of the big four networks, anyway). My father was very excited when he found out and started queuing up a tape. I remember the ominous score at the beginning as a very small spacecraft was docked onto a larger one. The speed with which the engineers cut through the metal doors is an image I will probably never forget.
This was my first exposure to what would be the greatest hero I have ever seen captured on film.
I both loved and hated Sunday Night movies. It gave me plenty of opportunities to be exposed to a number of different movies and it was edited for television, so my parents generally always let me watch them. I still had an 8 o’clock bed time and that meant I never got to finish the movies unless we recorded them. I got an hour at most (more like 40 minutes of real time due to the commercials) and I always slept poorly on those nights because I wanted to know what was going to happen next. I remember being able to vaguely hear some of the louder action scenes from where I laid in my bed that night.
The last scene I remember before having to go to bed is when Bishop did the famous “knife trick” over Hudson’s hand. There was much that I was already confused about, like when Ripley discovers that Bishop is an android and she loses her shit on him and the rest of the command crew, why she was having nightmares, etc.
The next day, I decided rather than finish this movie, I’d rather watch the original. I was already getting my arguments ready for my mom in my head right before I asked her. I didn’t need them.
“You’re old enough now,” she said. “You have to watch it with me and your father though.”
My mom was not lying. “Alien” was a creepy trip.
The quiet, anxiety tone that they create builds the perfect tension for later “jump” scenes. The concept of a “birth” occurring and unleashing one of the greatest murdering-machine villains of all time is beyond creative. It was unlike anything I had ever heard of.
My mom told me after we watched it why it was so scary for her the first time around. My dad took her to this movie blind. She knew nothing about it, had not seen any previews, and did not know what to expect. She was not mentally ready for what she was going to view.
Luckily, she was kind enough to give me 6 years to mentally prepare for my first viewing.
I mentioned that Ripley is the greatest hero ever seen captured on film. That wasn’t bullshit, or an overstatement. She is my favorite hero to watch to this day. She is smart, calm under pressure, inventive, and does not like to take any chances (listening to her discuss their options with the rest of the crew is one of the best bits of acting and dialogue in this well written feature). She is willing to do everything necessary to keep herself and her crew alive. Unfortunately, her foe is just as crafty, and about 100 times stronger in a physical contest. Watching Ellen Ripley develop from a “background” character into the leader and survivor that she becomes is a joy.
The sequel, “AlienS,” is a very appropriate title. Our heroes, a crew of marines, go to the planet that Ripley and her original crew found the first alien on. The planet is now inhabitable and has a small town of people mining the resources there…that is, they thought they were and have now lost contact with them. Ripley is eventually convinced to go and tries to warn everyone as to how things are more likely to go poorly before they get better. The prideful female marine, Vasquez, interrupts her warning and arrogantly lets her know that if Ripley shows her where they are, she will take care of the rest. Ripley wants to believe her, but we can see and hear it in her voice that she doesn’t.
Remember how I said “AlienS” was an appropriate title. They didn’t bring enough bullets. Their first encounter is a disaster and more than half their company is wiped out. Maybe three aliens get killed in the process, one of them by Ripley when she takes charge and drives their RV into where the retreating marines are, to extract them. Whatever confidence the marines had is now lost and people start to take Ripley seriously.
I love both of these films for very different reasons. “Alien” is an imaginative horror story all about mood and tone and begs us to ask “what is going to happen next?”
“Aliens” is a very well written and acted action extravaganza with amazing set pieces, props, special effects, camera tricks, and a well developed multi-dimensional calm and collected Ellen Ripley.
“Aliens” also has one of the best action scores ever written. I made mention of James Horner when I wrote about “Krull” and listed “Aliens” among the best of his work. It holds up today and ad agencies still use it in their trailers.
For those of you that have not taken the time to watch these, prepare yourselves. Dedicate some time and watch them back-to-back, preferably with someone that has already seen them and loves them.
Is there a greater way to watch a movie new to you?